I accepted a PhD offer from a major public research university in the US this year. However, turns out that the university makes students compete for funding and try to join a group in the first month of the first year. So my POI's chose different students and were not able to take me in. So I decided not to continue and withdraw (After 1 month of enrollment) before wasting my time and theirs. Now the university is asking me to pay back the tuition waiver guaranteed by the sham RA position. I cannot request a transcript to show to schools I am applying to this year unless I pay 20k dollars. Any suggestions on what to do in this bait-and-switch situation? The transcript only shows a 1-hour seminar with a grade of W and does not show GPA. should I just hide the fact that I went to this scam of a place or just show them proof that I withdrew in the place of the transcript.
Now the university is asking me to pay back the tuition waiver guaranteed by the sham RA position.
Don't do that. US universities should not ask students to repay tuition wavers. Maybe if the student committed fraud, but not because of withdrawal.
I cannot request a transcript to show to schools I am applying to this year
In your application, say "I want to study X. Previously I enrolled at the University of Y with the expectation that I would study X. I found out after one month that it was not possible for me to study X there, so I withdrew as early as possible."
Next time know which group you will be working in before you enroll. If the university will not let you join a group at the time of enrollment, find a different university.
If you can't afford it, you can't afford it. Do not lie to another school, just tell them the truth, without the words "sham" and "bait-and-switch" etc.
Tell them you attended for one month and withdrew, and can prove that, but there is now a dispute over tuition, which you thought was waived. They want you to pay 20K, which you are contesting, so they will not send you a transcript for the one course you signed up for and dropped after a month. Also tell them there will be no grade for that course, you formally withdrew, and that is all the transcript would say.
Lying to a new school will get you into trouble THERE too. Be honest, with just the facts, so they can't say you kept this a secret from them.